Lucy Doucette stood at the end of the hallway on the twelfth floor.
Her shift ended at six-thirty, but she asked Audrey Balcombe if there were any credits to be had and it turned out that three of the guests had requested housekeeping twice a day. She imagined these people were in some kind of lab or forensic work and had a serious germ phobia. Regardless, she was able to stay on for an extra two hours. Now she was just killing time.
Lucy knew that the moment she swiped her card in the electronic lock on the door to 1208 it would go on the record. She was scared out of her wits to go back in there, but she had been scared so long it just didn't matter anymore.
She looked over her shoulder. The hallway was deserted, but Lucy knew she was not alone, not technically. She had once been in the main security station and had seen the big monitors. All staff knew where the closed-circuit cameras were. At least, the cameras they knew about, the obvious ones on the ceiling. At the end of each hallway was a sideboard and a mirror, and Lucy always wondered if the mirrors were two-way mirrors and maybe had a camera behind them.
Before she could stop herself, Lucy knocked on the door to Room 1208.
Nothing. She knocked again, repeated the word. Silence from within. She leaned closer to the door. There was no sound of a TV, a radio, a conversation. The general rule was two announcements, then enter.
Lucy tried one last time, got no response, then swiped her card, eased open the door.
'Housekeeping,' she said once more, her voice barely above a whisper. She slipped inside, let the door close behind her. It shut with a loud and final click, meaning that the lock had irrevocably registered that she was in Room 1208.
The room looked exactly the same as it had the last time. The minibar was untouched, the bed had not been slept in, the wastebasket beneath the desk was empty. She peeked into the bathroom. Nothing had been disturbed in there, either. The toilet paper was still in a point, the soaps wrapped. Sometimes the nicer guests tried to hang the towels back the way they were, but Lucy could always tell. They never got them exactly right. She could also tell if someone had taken a shower or bath, just by the smell, the damp sweetness of body gel and shampoo that hung in the air.
She stepped back to the door, put her ear to it, listened for sounds in the hallway. It was silent. She walked to the closet, opened the door. The garment bag hung there like a body at a gallows. She reached out slowly, turned over the ID tag, her hand shaking.
This bag belongs to George Archer.
Lucy felt a chill ripple through her body. His name was George Archer. All these years she had tried to imagine her kidnapper's name. Everyone had a name. Whenever she read a newspaper or a magazine, whenever she watched a movie or a TV show, whenever she was in a place like a doctor's office or the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and someone said a name out loud she wondered: Is that his name? Could that person be the man in her nightmares? Now she knew. George Archer. It was, at the same moment, the most benign and the most frightening name she'd ever heard.
She closed the closet door, walked quickly over to the dresser, her heart pounding. She eased open the bottom drawer. The same shirts were inside - one blue, one white, one white with thin gray stripes. She mind-printed the way they were arrayed in the drawer so she could put them back in precisely the same manner. She bunched the three shirts together, lifted them. They seemed almost hot to her touch. But when she looked beneath the shirts, she saw that the picture was gone.
Had she imagined it?
No. It had been there. She had never seen that particular photograph before, but she knew where it had been taken. It had been taken at the ice-cream parlor on Wilmot Street. It was a photo of her mother, and her mother was wearing the red pullover sweater that Lucy had taken from Sears at the mall.
Lucy turned, looked at the rest of the room. It suddenly seemed foreign, as if she had never been here before. She put the shirts back in the drawer, arranging them carefully. She noticed something in the pocket of the shirt on top, the blue one. It was a piece of paper, a piece of Le Jardin notepad paper.
Lucy slipped her fingers gently into the pocket, took out the paper. It read:
Meet me here on Sunday night at 9:30. Love, Lucy.
It was her handwriting.
It was a note she had written and had left in the room for Mr. Archer to find.
She looked at her watch. It was 9:28.
The room began to spin. It felt for a moment as though the floor beneath her was about to give way. She slammed the drawer shut. It no longer mattered if she didn't get everything back the way it was supposed to be. The only thing that mattered was getting out of this room.
She recoiled from the dresser as if it were on fire, and suddenly heard—
Her bell. Her special bell.
Lucy felt calm, completely at peace. She knew what she had to do, what she must do. She walked to the hotel room door, propped it open. Then she entered the closet, closed the door, sat on the floor.
Once inside she smelled apples, pipe smoke, the essence of George Archer, the essence of evil. But this time she was not afraid.
As footsteps passed by the closet - two sets, a few minutes apart - the night closed in around her, and Lucy Doucette remembered it all.
'It's okay, Eve, ' he said. 'There's been an accident. I will take care of you.'
He held out his hand. On it he wore a ring in the shape of a snake. The air was thick with smoke, the sky darkened from it.
' What kind of accident?' she asked.
Mr. Archer opened the door to his car. Lucy got in. 'A plane crash,' he said. 'A bad plane crash.'
'Where's my mom?'
'She wants me to watch after you. She's going to go help the people where the plane crashed.'
'My mom is?'
Mr. Archer started the car.
He led her down the narrow wooden steps, through a small door into a drafty room with stone walls. The room was lit only with candles. It seemed as though there were hundreds of them. The room smelled like bad perfume and fermenting apples. Even the dust and cobwebs were cold.
When Mr. Archer left, and Lucy heard the door at the top of the stairs lock, she saw that there was another girl sitting there. She was about Lucy's age, eleven or so, but she was wearing a grown-up dress. It was spangly and short, and had straps over the shoulders. The girl's face was smeared with make-up. She had been crying for a long time. Her eyes were red and puffy.
'Who are you?' Lucy asked.
The girl shivered.
'I'm ... I'm Peggy.'
'Why are you here?'
The girl did not answer. Lucy looked at the girl's arms and legs. There were deep purple bruises on them. Then she looked over and saw a second dress hanging from one of the pipes in the ceiling.
A long time passed. Hours and hours of which Lucy had no mind, no memory. Days of darkness.
On the third day she took a bubble bath. The bathroom was in a small room off the cellar. The walls were a pink enamel. The sink had gold-colored faucets.
When it was dark Mr. Archer came downstairs to get her. He brought her up to the dining room for the first time. The table was set for grown-ups. Wine glasses and more candles. Lucy found herself in her own grown-up dress, and wearing high heels that were too big for her. Mr. Archer was dressed up like a man in an old movie. He had on a white bow tie. He walked to the kitchen.
Lucy looked at the window. She walked across the room, edged it open, slipped through.
'Eve!' Mr. Archer yelled.
Lucy ran. She ran as far and for as long as she could, through endless apple orchards, tripping and falling, scraping her knees and elbows, mushing the rotting apples beneath her. She looked over her shoulder, watching for Mr. Archer. She didn't see him. She soon came to a large pipe that emptied into a lake, crouched down inside, waited. She didn't know how long she was there. Hours and hours. She must have cried herself to sleep, because the next thing she knew there was a light in her face.
'It's okay,' the man with the flashlight said.
But it wasn't. It wasn't okay.
They talked to her for hours, but Lucy didn't say a word. What happened to her was locked away inside.
Her mother took her home. Time passed, and the man with the ring in the shape of a snake faded from her mind but took up faceless residence in that nest of fear inside her, flying overhead in the darkness of her dreams.
At night she would hear him humming, she would hear the sound of the car door slamming, the creak of the old wooden steps, the softness of his voice, she would hear—
The bell rang again.
It seemed to come from far away, as if it were at the end of that long drainage pipe in which she had crawled. For the briefest of moments she smelled the sewage, felt the dampness of the air. Then it was gone.
Lucy looked around. It took a while for her to realize where she was. She was in the hotel. Le Jardin. She knew every inch of this place. She looked around the dark closet, felt overhead.
How much time had passed? She didn't know. She stood, opened the closet door, stepped into the room. The air had changed, changed in a way you could only know from being in a place day after day, knowing its walls, it ceilings, its corners, its very presence.
The door to the hallway was closed. Lucy looked at her watch. She hadn't been gone long. She had to get out of this room. Mr. Archer could be back any second.
She turned to leave, but suddenly felt lightheaded. She sat on the edge of the bed for a moment. Her mind began to clear, but something was wrong. Something felt wet underneath her. She got up, looked at her hands. They were coated in bright, glossy scarlet. She turned around and saw, in the dim light, the form under the blood- soaked sheets.
Lucy felt the contents of her stomach come up inside her throat. She backed away, certain that her heart was going to explode. She could no longer hold it in. She vomited on the floor.
Then she looked at the telephone on the desk. It seemed a mile away. The smell of her own vomit reached her at the same time as the metallic smell of blood. She was going to be sick again.
She ran to the bathroom.